Monday, 28 May 2012

Pair of Pears: Urban Regeneration

Like a Phoenix from the flames, my two favourite pear trees, which were so misguidedly chopped off in their prime, are trying their damn best to raise a stubborn two fingered salute to their arboreal oppressors.
Both the pear tree by the bank of the Itchen River and the pear tree by the proposed allotment site in Somerset Road, Portswood, are making significant regenerative progress.
Fresh branches and leaves are already forging their way skyward in an effort to replace the lost limbs and trunks that were so casually cut down. Whether they will eventually be allowed to continue this dramatic regrowth is as yet unknown.
I think we should label the stumps in some way, to make it quite clear that they are fruit trees that should be preserved and encouraged to grow-back to their former productive glory.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Wet Hunter, White Hart

The sun has finally shown itself now but during the wettest April on record we went for a weekend walk. We were tired of the constant deluge but a monster storm had been forecast; so we decided to pack a picnic and go to try and find the worst weather we could.
For once, the Met. got it totally wrong. The wind changed direction/speed and the rain stopped, mostly. So, instead of going to the beach to see huge waves, we decided to go to the New Forest, for a wet walk.
We stopped at Lyndhurst and had our lunch in the car at Bolton’s Bench; it was still drizzling.  I was just plucking up the courage to tear myself away from the newspaper, when my daughter shouted DEER! We all looked up and sure enough, there were two stags and one young, completely white deer, trotting across the grass and into the cover of the trees.
In a trice I was outside the car, wrapped in my waterproof and chivvying the kids into their coats and boots. We trotted off to see if we could get close enough to deer to snap a photograph but they had vanished amongst the gorse. So, we carried on splashing along the streams and puddles caused by the relentless torrential rain.
I did ask some local dog walkers about the deer and they told me where I could go to be most likely to photograph a couple of rare white stags (harts), so we will have to track down these exceptional, snowy beauties on another day.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012


While pushing the mower over the garden lawn recently (it’s a non-powered mechanical mower), I spotted a bumblebee flying up from the grass. As I went back over the same patch again, I saw another.
I had a closer look at the spot and as I watched I saw several bees fly in and out of a small hole in the ground; there was obviously a nest. I gently banged in a couple of pegs  as a marker and more bees came out at the disturbance, one even landed on my leg and got hastily brushed off.
My children were delighted not to mention very excited and phoned grandma and mum before settling down to observe and count our bees. At least we won’t have to worry about our (bee friendly) flowers being pollenated. We believe they are White Tailed Bumblebees.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Elderflower for Everyone

Elder trees grow in the hedgerows and fields, the young branches are hollow and pithy (the older wood is very hard). The young branches can be used to make blow-pipes, or flutes/whistles perhaps for the more peacefully minded. The bark is rough and cork-like with deep ridges.
Around May time Elder trees comes into flower. Elderflower is known in some quarters as the first sign of summer and spending a warm sunny day collecting the flowers and turning them into Elderflower cordial or Elderflower champagne, will only enhance that summery feeling.
I think it’s nice to collect the flowers with the children and they will enjoy helping you make the different brews. The kids can then have the cooling cordial and the adults can enjoy the fizzy stuff later on.
The white flowers start as tight green buds that tend to grow upwards, although they may droop if they are heavy; they smell subtly of citrus. Elderberries come after the flowers, they start green and then hang down in bright purple/black bunches, they are very popular with blackbirds and thrushes.
When picking Elderflowers, always try to avoid any flowers with small insects on them. Do leave plenty of flowers on the tree because when they develop into Elderberries, these can then be turned into other tasty treats later in the year.
Despite the cold and relentless rain, I saw my first Swift of the year on Monday, and, although he did look slightly stunned; the Signs of Summer are definately lining up...

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Magnificent Muesli

I realised that we still had a large stash (several Kgs) of last year’s hazelnuts squirreled away in a cupboard and brought a basket load down to see if we could utilise them in some way. It didn’t take long for the kids to notice them and they were soon happily cracking away and munching handfuls of healthy nuts and making a merry mess of the carpet.
My partner then decided to make her favourite homemade muesli. I was subsequently tasked with cracking enough nuts to create a massive biscuit tin full of delicious, crunchy oat-based cereal. I’m sorry to tell you that the exact recipe for this blend of wholesome ingredients is, apparently, top secret.
I can’t remember how exactly how many nuts she used that night but I lost track of the plot of the film I had intended to watch; you need to concentrate or you can get tooth-challenging shell fragments in your muesli; not a good thing at bleary breakfast time.
While I was on the job, I thought I would make a box of tasty trail mix to take to work; I added our last walnuts, some raisins and any other titbits that could be foraged from the cupboard – The resulting combination made a pleasant contrast to my daily cheese sandwiches.

Monday, 7 May 2012

The Wicker Man

After one of the coldest and wettest bank holidays I can recall in recent times, I’m pleased to announce that we did our bit toward tempting the summer to show its sunny face.
We visited Butser Ancient Farm to celebrate Beltane (I guess you could describe it as an Iron Age May fair); the culmination of which was the burning of an absolutely huge Wicker Man. The Gods must have smiled on our antics because astonishingly, it failed to rain on our bonfire.
There was lots to see and do, including a Morris dancing troop, Celtic and Roman weaponry and dress, falconry, storytelling by Red Phoenix, traditional crafts, a tasty hog roast, making for the children to partake in, bands, cider, fudge and of course – the Wicker Man...
We made our way straight over to see the main attraction and scrawled our wishes and dreams down on small wraps of paper – these were then posted into the Wicker Man's legs to be burned in the eventual fire. This was a modern day replacement for sacrifices, which would have been traditional apparently. He was taller than the trees and a grown man could easily walk under his legs.
We had a fantastic time but everything paled in comparison to what was to come. As darkness fell everyone gathered in anticipation, a safe distance away from the massive wooden sculpture; until finally, someone approached with a burning torch.
Once his legs were burning, our wishes went up in smoke and it was only a short time before his torso, which was stuffed with straw was blazing away. Finally, to a chorus of Ahhhhs and Oohhs the Wicker Man’s blazing head fell to the ground, sending a huge shower of red embers into the night.
As we trudged back over the hill to our vehicles, we were cold, tired and hungry but very excited; our heads were still filled with images of that hot, firey giant. Our wishes that may yet come true, were now far off sparks, sailing like shooting stars into the dark sky...

Friday, 4 May 2012

Fruit into Flowers

After the blossom falls from the fruit trees, it’s a good idea to pop back to your chosen locations and have a quick look, to check if there is any fruit developing.
Baby Cherries
 I already have noticed a lot of miniature plums and cherries. They really seem to be quite prolific at the moment; whether this crop will mature is not yet known but I’m guessing that the very wet April might have helped to plump up these fruits.
Young Plums Go For It
In a month or so we will be able to check out the progress of the young apples and pears too.
 Industrial Estate - Proto Cherries 
 In June, things will start to get very busy; then all your checking, recording and mapping activities will suddenly come into their own and you will once again be able to pick and eat free fresh fruit straight off the trees.